Researchers at the University of Utah have developed a drug to prevent and treat people with the AIDS virus. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they explain their discovery. “This is an exciting new treatment option for AIDS, both preventive and curative, with a unique mechanism of action compared to other drugs,” says Michael S. Kay, lead author of the study.
An alternative to cART multidrug therapy
Today many HIV-positive people are treated with a treatment called cART. cART is a multi-drug therapy consisting of several drugs. “It has greatly improved patients’ survival and quality of life,” the researchers emphasize, “but it is also an expensive treatment with serious side effects and forces patients to take tablets every day.” Michael S. Kay also points out that HIV mutations occur regularly and as a result the virus can become resistant to treatment, making it necessary to adapt the treatments frequently.
A D-Peptide based Drug
The injectable drug is called CPT31: it is based on D-peptides, unnatural amino acid chains similar to those produced by the body. They attack a pocket of the AIDS virus, which is necessary for it to work. Their constitution allows them to degrade slowly allowing them to stay longer in the body. They are “mostly ignored by the immune system, which prevents immune reactions that are common side effects of conventional peptides,” explains Brett Welch, co-author of the study.
Effectiveness in prevention, but also in the treatment
To test their effectiveness, scientists conducted tests on monkeys. They were all healthy when they received the first injection of the drug, then the researchers administered a hybrid form of HIV, and “the monkeys were completely protected from this high exposure to HIV,” they found out. They never showed signs of infection. “We thought this drug could be used to prevent HIV infection because the initial exposure usually contains a small amount of the virus,” Michael S. says. “The monkeys were completely protected from this high HIV exposure,” adds. Michael S. Kay
He and his team also tested the curative effect of the treatment. The HIV-infected monkeys with a high viral load received the drug. For one month, the blood tests showed a significant decrease in the amount of virus in the blood. In the following weeks, the viral load increased again due to the resistance of the virus to the treatment. The researchers found that regular injections prevented this. “Long-acting injections seem to be preferred by patients and doctors over the drugs that have to be taken daily,” says Brett Welch. “In addition, this formulation provides a stable level of medication and reduces the risk of therapy resistance caused by forgetting to take the pill every day, as well as the side effects.” So far, the injectable drug has only been tested on primates, but human trials are expected this year.